Since May of 1977 there have been Star Wars events…and waiting…and hype….and lines that ran the gamut from casual fan to the scruffiest looking of Nerf Herders. Being closer to the latter than I am to the former I have come to realize like many other Warsies who have been hurt before that there are things George Lucas does that are worth waiting for and things that aren’t. Would I time travel back and pull myself out of the line in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater where I got my tickets to the first showing of Phantom Menace (and a really bad sunburn)? Hard to say, things like that aren’t just about the event but more about hanging out with other people who are locked in on a similar frequency of crazy to your own.
When George Lucas is bad, he’s very very bad but when he’s on his game we see the full power of that fully armed and operational battle station in his head the experience is second to none… capture that in a ride in Tomorrowland and Disneyland truly lives up to title The Happiest Place On Earth. A few months ago, I sprung for Disneyland Annual Passes for myself and a buddy who up until recently didn’t know the joys of The Magic Kingdom. On that day we rode the original Star Tours for what would be my last time. The ride had seen far better days, the lobby monitor was lo def and using the same print since it opened in the 80′s as was the actual ride, you could hear every gear in the motion box struggling to stay relevant like an R2 unit with a bad motivator. To see that ride in it’s prime though, through the eyes of a kid in the 80′s…there really aren’t words. To walk into a room and see a starship docked in a hanger and C-3PO and R2-D2 banter back and forth as they repaired it, not on a movie screen but inches away from you. Up above Admiral Akbar’s minions doing the intergalactic equivalent of Air Traffic Control, a video monitor showing exciting clips of travel packages “Visit the Forest Moon of Endor!”
Suddenly a long time ago was now and that galaxy far, far away was beneath your feet. The ride itself was far past what you’d hoped a malfunctioning droid pilot named Rex who sounded a lot like Pee Wee Herman (mainly because he was voiced by Paul Reubens) was supposed to take you to Endor but something went wrong and the next thing you know you’re helping the Rebel Alliance in a trench run on the Death Star, it was as close to living in that world as technology would allow…hell…the pilot even said “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” at one point.
Flash forward back to 2011 and that same ride on it’s last legs was nothing short of tragic. Since that day, Disneyland has kept in touch with me as an annual passholder, they’ve sent me all manner of e-mails about things I mostly didn’t care about but one stuck out in my inbox “Be one of the first to ride the new Star Tours!” The e-mail explained that this was a contest and that some passholders would be chosen to go on the new ride before the general public. Suffice to say I was one of the lucky ones and had the opportunity to ride the new Star Tours four times that day. Indeed this would be a day long remembered.
What can I tell you without ruining anything? They’ve kept everything good. The lobby is much the same, 3PO and R2 got fresh coats of paint like the end of A New Hope, that video monitor in the hangar is now hi-def and beautiful and offers MUCH more interesting footage and travel packages (the ride now takes place chronologically between the classic trilogy and the prequels so elements from both can be used easily throughout the experience without upsetting the balance of the force…or the other nerds). Pilot Rex is here from the original but you may not notice him the first time through, just as you won’t see everything the first time through…no, not because I think you’re not very observant but because you literally can’t see it all in one ride. More on that in a moment. The ride itself is in 3-D. I know that took the wind out of a few sails but rest assured this is Theme Park 3-D which has always trumped movie 3-D by a large margin. It’s not just depth of field crap, stuff actually aggressively comes right up to your face and in the world of Star Wars that’s a very cool thing.
Now the first time I rode the ride I got pretty much what I’d heard in rumors: The Pod Races but then it went off course (of course!) to a mammoth space battle and even though it was prequel stuff it was damn good and it was absolutely a quantum leap forward from the original ride. I was blown away. But then in the gift shop I overheard other people talking about their experience “It was so cool when Vader showed up.” What the fuck? “That hologram of Yoda was cool.” Are they high? The hologram was of Ackbar. Then it hit me, the promise of the original concept for the ride had finally been made a reality. All those ads for visiting Hoth, Tattooine, Coruscant were now a reality. There was no longer one ride to watch over and over again, now when you put on your safety restraints and your surprisingly comfortable 3-D glasses you really have no idea what part of the galaxy you’ll be visiting next. At four points in the ride footage is randomly selected and seamlessly edited together making each ride virtually unique (according to Disneyland you would have to ride the ride a minimum of 54 times to see every single combination of footage). There’s also something I won’t give away that makes every single ride a completely unique experience. So yes, now that I’ve won a pod race, fought in the Clone Wars, lived through the traffic of Coruscant, and barely escaped being crushed by entangled Imperial Walker (AT-AT) I can safely say this is one of those lines worth waiting in. The Force is strong with this one. Star Tours Opens at Disneyland on June 3rd.